Editing Modernism in Canada


April 10, 2013

Kate Hennessy and the Inuvialuit Living History Project

EMiC co-applicant Kate Hennessy, an Assistant Professor at Simon Fraser University’s School of Interactive Arts and Technology, is the producer and designer of the collaboratively developed Inuvialuit Living History Project. As a digital exhibit and living archive, the project re-presents Inuvialuit ethnographic objects from an Inuvialuit perspective, while also engaging issues relating to ownership, repatriation, and digital cultural heritage.

The Inuvialuit Living History Project features artifacts collected by Hudson Bay Company trader Roderick MacFarlane in the 1860s on behalf of the Smithsonian Institution. The MacFarlane Collection — which, at over 5 000 items, is perhaps the most significant collection of Inuvialuit ethnographic artifacts — was split primarily between the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC, the McCord Museum in Montreal, and National Museums Scotland in Edinburgh. Thus, the MacFarlane Collection has never been exhibited in its entirety. Further, because of geographic distance and the limited digitization of the collection, for Inuvialuit peoples the collection remained largely inaccessible.

In 2009, Kate travelled with a delegation of Inuvialuit elders and youth, and a team of filmmakers, archaeologists, and educators to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. After viewing the MacFarlane Collection and making a documentary called A Case of Access (produced by the Inuvialuit Communications Society), the team decided to create a digital exhibit and archive — Inuvialuit Pitqusiit Inuuniarutiat: Inuvialuit Living History.

Launched in May 2012, the project website presents objects in the MacFarlane Collection and multimedia documentation of the Inuvialuit delegation’s first experience with the objects in 2009 (including A Case of Access). The website has been designed to allow for archiving user contributions, ongoing research, and community projects, and to change as priorities and interests change. Right now, the team is working to add more content from the Smithsonian collections. In particular, they are working to add a representative sample of the natural history collection, and to connect it to the ethnographic collection already on the Inuvialuit Living History site. The team is developing follow-up projects — including a sewing project that is based on clothing patterns traced during their research at the Smithsonian — that will facilitate community engagement with the project.

The Inuvialuit Living History Project is produced in collaboration with the Inuvialuit Cultural Resource Centre and the Smithsonian’s Arctic Studies Center (see the list of team members). Consequently, maintaining relationships has been a central focus for Kate and the team. In addition to working with the Inuvialuit Cultural Resource Centre and the Arctic Studies Center, the team is also committed to developing and maintaining relationships with Inuvialuit communities through consultation and outreach. As with many digital projects, funding and preservation are the project’s major challenges. However, the strong relationships that the team has made with the Inuvialuit Cultural Resource Centre, Parks Canada, and Inuvialuit communities make the team optimistic that they will be able to overcome those challenges, and to make the Inuvialuit Living History Project a dynamic and representative living archive of Inuvialuit cultural heritage.

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